When the Queer Eye reboot hit Netflix earlier this year, it rapidly won over skeptics like myself, who thought it would perpetuate outdated stereotypes about LGBTQ people. Instead, it offered up a refreshing example of male friendship with its endlessly charming Fab Five, and while its depiction of queer emotional labor drew legitimate criticism, the show’s spirit of radical kindness had many of us misty-eyed.
I love at @QueerEye on @netflix Today has been just such a brutal day for news and I’m sitting here crying about how much empathy and kindness this group of men shows to the people that they feature on the show. I want this to be the world we all live in. ❤❤❤❤❤
— Tegan and Sara (@teganandsara) June 19, 2018
So in the second episode of #QueerEye I was crying over wood panelling. What is happening???
— Tom Allen (@tomallencomedy) June 19, 2018
One episode into @QueerEye season 2 and the woman is crying, her son is crying, the Fab 5 are crying, I’m crying, you are crying, my houseplants are crying,,,, bless this show🌈
— Bianca (@notbyeanca) June 15, 2018
How do y’all watch @QueerEye? I’m just sitting here crying…
— Kalen Allen (@TheKalenAllen) June 17, 2018
Season 2, now streaming on Netflix, is no different. In fact, the tagline for this season — “I’m not crying, you’re crying” — indicates that Jonathan, Karamo, Bobby, Tan and Antoni will be tugging on viewers’ heartstrings even harder than they did the first time around. After binge-watching the entire season in a single weekend, I can confirm it delivers on that promise; seriously, this show is like an emotional laxative. It’s also probably no coincidence that the moments that provoke the strongest emotional response in the viewer are also the moments that best encapsulate the earnest (if sometimes facile) philosophy of Queer Eye.
Throughout my binge-watch, I kept a criary (short for “crying diary,” copyright me) to track just how much blubbering occurred. Below, a scientifically composed listicle of all the scenes that had me rending my garments the most, plus the broader significance I believe they held for Queer Eye’s second season. (Spoilers ahead.)
1. Miss Tammye. (Episode 1)
The first episode of Season 2 really leans into the “make ‘em weep” objective. It’s the Citizen Kane of emotionally manipulative television. If you can make it through the episode without dying of dehydration, then the rest of the season will be a breeze. But boy, is there a lot to unpack first.
On the one hand, “God Bless Gay” (the name of the episode) delivers an emotionally compelling story about a religious mother reconciling with her gay son. On the other, it seems to dismiss the deeply ingrained prejudices that can be found in some organized religions with an “all you need is love” attitude. As the show established with its cuddly MAGA cop episode in the first season, Queer Eye wants to believe that human beings can connect with each other across fundamental differences. But it also assumes that those on the other side will reach across the aisle in good faith, when sadly, real life isn’t always that simple.
It also feels like a definite choice to open this season with evangelical Christian Miss Tammye, as opposed to Mayor Ted, the small-town politician from episode eight, who welcomes immigrants and champions diversity. While Tammye’s journey toward accepting her gay son is a positive one, it is also hard to sit and watch her place the burden of forgiveness on him with the cameras rolling. Episodes like “God Bless Gay” make me hope that one day Queer Eye will film a reunion special, with the Fab Five revisiting these families to find out what happened in the aftermath of those TV-friendly transformations.
All that said, the climax of this episode, which sees Tammye bidding farewell to the boys, is up there with Marley & Me in the feels stakes. It echoes the goodbye scene in The Wizard of Oz, with Tammye playing Dorothy, turning to each of the Fab Five and telling them how special they are, giving them the same validation and love that they now spend their careers giving others. It’s the kind of wide-eyed, open-hearted interaction that Queer Eye excels in, presented without a hint of cynicism, and so despite all my reservations about the episode’s simplistic handling of a complex subject, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.
2. “Give me my flowers now, not later.” (Episode 4)
“The Handyman Can” centers on a going-away party for a lovable hippie named Jason, and culminates in a moment that puts The Bachelor to shame: “It doesn’t matter where you go, what you do,” best friend Beth tells Jason, “you’re a piece of my heart.”
But that isn’t enough, oh no. In an epilogue that won’t so much warm the cockles of your heart as douse them in gasoline and light a match, we find out that Jason and Beth are in love, and he has decided to stay in Atlanta to be with her. In a season that also features a public proposal straight out of a romantic comedy, this is the moment that had me reaching to download Tinder again and give love another shot.
Beth’s profession of love could have been inspired up by one of Karamo’s granny’s favorite sayings: “Give me my flowers now, not later.” Judging from the number of times Karamo quotes his granny in the fourth episode, you’d be forgiven for thinking that she’s a latter-day Confucius who speaks exclusively in fridge magnets. But “give me my flowers now, not later” is an axiom to live by; it’s better to tell people how much they mean to you while they’re still around than to wait until it’s too late. And that is exactly what Karamo does at the episode end: takes a moment at episode’s end to tell Jonathan, Bobby, Tan and Antoni that he loves them. Such open expressions of affection in the group are frequent, but they never cease to pack an emotional punch for me, because there are so few examples of platonic tenderness between men in mainstream media.
3. The clothes maketh the man. (Episode 5)
I burst into tears one minute and thirty seconds into “Sky’s The Limit,” the opening of which sees trans man Skyler waking up from his top surgery and looking down for the first time at his post-op body. It’s a TV moment that could be read as either groundbreaking or exploitative depending on your point of view, but either way, it opens up the episode for some frank conversations about the complicated relationship many trans people have with their bodies.
Seeing Tan work with Skyler to find more masculine proportions in his wardrobe, and even embrace suits via a positive experience with an understanding tailor (having found the process traumatic in the past) is a wonderful demonstration of how clothing can symbolize so much more than simply what you choose to wear. And the end of the episode, which sees Skyler dancing in his new suit and then stripping to show off his new body, is so rare and refreshing in its portrayal of a trans person’s joy that I cried yet again — even though I agree with Tan that it is a sin to wear your shirt collar over a blazer.
4. Bobby’s turn! (Episodes 1 & 7)
It’s a running joke at this point that Bobby is the least appreciated of the Fab Five; while Antoni is chopping cilantro and smizing in testimonials, Bobby is renovating entire homes in the space of a week. Over the course of this season, however, Bobby became Queer Eye’s MVP, not just through his impeccable taste and jaunty hats, but his emotional honesty. In the first episode, Bobby opens up about the hurt he felt when he was rejected by his church for being gay — and while “God Bless Gay” as a whole is keen to let organized religion off the hook with its “love thy neighbor” message, Bobby is the only one who never really embraces it, and I respect that; the show might claim to be able to fix your life in a week, but in reality that kind of pain runs deep. Later in the season, in “Bedazzled,” Bobby gets real once again in a conversation with Lulu, the godmother of makeover subject Sean, when he talks about being adopted.
The Fab Five come into these people’s lives and ask them to make themselves vulnerable, and more than any of the others, Bobby has done the same. Of course, the unseen hand of the producer is just off-screen, engineering these moments, but Bobby’s conversations felt a little more organic than Tan’s “sit down and educate me (and the audience) about trans issues” scene with Skyler in episode five. Season 1 saw the internet fall in love with Jonathan’s effervescent personality, and in thirst with Antoni’s Instagram. In Season 2, Bobby emerged as the beating heart of Queer Eye, and I just hope that he starts to get the appreciation he deserves!
For all its flaws, I still very much believe that Queer Eye is an important piece of pop culture. Scenes like Tammye’s son singing with a choir again, Skyler dancing with his LGBTQ family, and Mayor Ted advocating for immigrants and minorities have the potential to change minds and provide hope to the marginalized.
Let me know which parts of Season 2 made you cry — and whether you have any tips for dealing with puffy eyes! Come to think of it, I bet Jonathan does…
Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the U.K. You can follow him on Twitter @Philip_Ellis